Monday, August 6, 2018

The opportunity to suffer well

Photo by Chitbhanu Singh on Unsplash

I can tell you, right now, this moment, I suffer nothing. But it hasn’t always been that way. And it won’t always be that way. The nature of life is that my circumstances, and yours, can change in a matter of hours; seconds, actually.
The thing about time is this:
it never stands still.
You may, right now, be in a different situation to me. You may have chronic ill-health, a mental health problem, a chaotic family structure, be close to burnout, or be nursing an elderly parent or a disabled child, or — heaven help you — have some flurry of a combination of circumstances that conspire against you. You may be a billionaire, a sports star, or someone with global influence, and therefore I may not suffer the pressure that you do.
I have, however, suffered such a range of things over my lifetime, just as you have, or are.
One thing is for sure,
suffering in life is inevitable;
none of us can avoid it.
But this is where the gospel comes into its own. This is where the power of Jesus helps. Truly, nothing else helps and nothing else matters when we’re suffering than Jesus, because in our suffering we can share in His suffering.
Let’s handle this first: the phenomenon of time.
The Phenomenon of Time
Unlike anything else in the myriad knowledge of existence, time is fundamentally dynamic. And yet time is an agent acting on just about everything, whether it is growth or recedence or enhancement or decay.
Time is also something we are fundamentally unable to get used to. We are very much at the whim of time. This is because time, within the constraints of circumstance, wraps us up in experience, and all experience has meaning, and though some experience is wondrous, many experiences we have are lamentable and loathsome.
The dynamics of change in time are nothing we can change, and all we can do is accept what we have no power over. But how we perceive our experience of time is very much within our control.
Philippians 3:10
One way to write the key verse of Philippians 3:10 is this:
‘I know Jesus
and have His resurrection power,
when I join with Him
by having fellowship with Him
in His sufferings,
because in this
I become like Him,
in His suffering’s way.’
I know the writing of this verse this way won’t satisfy everyone, but I think it captures some of the essence of what the apostle Paul was referring to in what I’m writing about.
Paul outlines in the above verse that there is an opportunity to suffer well. This is not about glorying in our suffering, but to take our suffering as Jesus did, learning to bear it patiently, and finding contentment in life beyond it.
As soon as we believe this is possible,
God makes it possible for us to experience it.
Yet, we must know this:
Life makes no sense unless we can
make meaning of our experience.
Given that a large portion of our experience will involve handling situations we do not enjoy, can we see God’s invitation as an opportunity to overcome through the testimony of Jesus?
The gospel way of overcoming amid suffering is nothing about healing it in the ultimate sense, though, of course, God can do that, and does do that on some occasions. The gospel way of overcoming amid suffering is simply a mindset that both accepts it and looks past it; that the suffering cannot overcome us, even though along the way we can and do feel overwhelmed in learning this gospel craft; a learning we never truly master — and ultimately, never truly want to.
One of the amazing things about God is that His gospel shows us that reality can match our unconscious desire for true oneness and unity. Through the power of the gospel we can negate our selfish desire, but first we must learn to conquer the momentary demand of the selfish desire, which is to suffer well its demise, knowing that there is no comparison, and that any envying is a distraction from blessing, whereas the fullest gospel focus will redeem the fullest result of blessing.
Life teaches us the opportunity to suffer well.
Once we have learned this, or at least accepted this — life’s key curriculum — there truly is nothing in life that can defeat our hope.
This is the living power
of the gospel for life.
I cannot finish an article on suffering without saying that suffering is not only never fun, but it leaves us questioning the very meaning of life, especially when our circumstances are such that we will continue to suffer. But there is a hope beyond suffering. That’s what this article hopes to communicate.
We cannot hope to see the opportunity to suffer well
without becoming sick and tired
of experiencing the pain of suffering poorly.

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